Personal Struggles Inspire “Arctic Air’s” Adam Beach
ALDERGROVE, B.C. — From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jan. 03, 2012 5:08PM EST
Adam Beach is all smiles and charm as he leads a tour through the cavernous and chilly Aldergrove, B.C., set of the new CBC television series Arctic Air. “This is the hardest thing about working on the show, is sitting inside that little pilot seat and acting with just looks of your head,” Beach says inside the cramped reconstructed DC-3, where some of the scenes are filmed.
But in fact there’s something much more difficult about this role. For Beach, it presents some parallels with his own life that have made the experience both extremely satisfying and, at times, excruciating.
“There’s a close likeness [between] who I am and who Bobby is,” Beach, 39, said during an interview shortly after the tour, speaking about the character he plays. “He’s left Yellowknife to become a businessman, and now he’s come home. I left home to become a Hollywood guy and now I’ve come home.
“The struggle with business; I had that in my life with the business in Hollywood,” he continues. “Maintaining integrity … that’s one of my big things. And the loss of parents that Bobby has. I lost my parents as a kid.”
Beach was eight years old when his father drowned, two months after his mother was killed by a drunk driver. “She was eight months pregnant,” Beach says. “Died in front of the ditch in front of my house. So that’s a constant reminder every time I go visit home.”
Beach was born in Ashern, Man. and spent his childhood on and near the Dog Creek First Nations Reserve. After his parents’ deaths he was raised by grandparents and then his uncle, who took him to Winnipeg, where Beach became interested in acting.
Then he did become a Hollywood guy, as he says, with high-profile credits including Cowboys & Aliens, Flags of our Fathers, a Golden Globe-nominated role in HBO’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and TV series Big Love and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
His latest project, Arctic Air, is set in a booming Yellowknife, where native son Bobby Martin – now a suit-wearing business success – returns to help run the airline his family partly owns.
Beach has tapped into his personal history for this portrayal – in particular for an episode where Bobby searches for his missing father. And it hasn’t been easy.
“That’s a past that I kind of keep to myself. I’ve dealt with it to a certain level, but when you have to reveal it again, it’s like breaking an egg and having to put it back together when the day’s done.”
Beyond this conversation, there’s no indication of Beach’s personal demons as he tours the set, cracking jokes and holding the hand of co-star Leah Gibson, who plays Candi Lussier, a front-desk clerk at the Frontier Hotel who is hoping one of the visiting businessmen might be her ticket out of Yellowknife – booming or not.
But he gets serious again when he talks about the heritage he shares with his character.
Beach says Bobby is a culturally aware, noble character whose spirit and strength make him a fine role model for young first-nations’ viewers in remote communities (who will have access to the series because it’s on CBC). He cites one scene where, after being taunted by an adversary – called “Geronimo” and “Chief” – Bobby finally punches the guy in the face.
“That act is going to release a lot of people who deal with ignorance and racism,” says Beach, who is Saulteaux. “I wouldn’t want people to punch out people, but it says a lot of Bobby’s character. There’s so much you can push and try to manipulate or manoeuvre with me, but I draw a line. A lot of people need to see that.
“That’s going to save a lot of these youth in recognition to move forward in their life in a positive way. And that’s one of the key [reasons] why I’m doing the show,” says Beach, who has three children of his own, aged 3 to 15.
Beach takes his responsibility as a role model for native youth very seriously. He is involved with the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation and at schools, conferences and other events, he speaks candidly about the difficulties he has faced, and his road to recovery – and success.
When Arctic Air shot on location in Fort Resolution, NWT, the local elementary school invited Beach to speak. With little notice, he got the cast into a truck and while the crew struck the set, made an impromptu visit to the school, where Beach wowed star-struck students and staff who presented him with an eagle feather.
“Oh my gosh, Adam’s a superstar,” says co-star Pascale Hutton, who plays pilot Krista Ivarson, the daughter of Bobby’s business partner (Kevin McNulty). “You go into these communities and not just the kids – the kids, the adults, everybody flocks to him. And Adam is so gracious and warm and welcoming and really authentically and with true conviction wants to learn about them and know what they need and know what their struggles are and what their joys are and make a connection with each individual person. It’s beautiful,” she said.
“It’s an inspiration to work with somebody who really walks the walk and wants to make a difference,” she continued.
Gibson – whose personal relationship with Beach was evident – has accompanied him to several school presentations. “It’s inspiring, it’s exciting,” she says, recalling one visit, in particular, to a Grade 12 aboriginal-studies class in New Westminster, B.C.
“The kids were all very well informed and very eager and had very intelligent questions,” she says. “And they’ll never forget this conversation with him. They’ll never forget having him there and sharing his energy and his inspiration and his excitement and his passion.”
Arctic Air premieres Jan. 10 at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC-TV